We are two and a half months out from Waterfront Toronto's board vote on what remains of the Sidewalk Labs proposal for Quayside. What's new?
We ended 2019 with community members expressing concern that Waterfront Toronto continues to have conflicting roles, helping create, advocating for and evaluating the Sidewalk Labs proposal for Quayside (a proposal which remains frustratingly murky). Waterfront Toronto staff are scrambling to address these and other community concerns, while the City of Toronto forges ahead to develop new policies around technology and data collection. Decision-makers say these policies won't be ready in time for the evaluation of Sidewalk Labs' proposal, which features an unprecedented density of data-collecting sensors. Our year starts off with a call to action around this clear case of corporate capture (see below).
Meanwhile, the courts will begin to hear Waterfront Toronto's motion to dismiss the Canadian Civil Liberties Association lawsuit, which could shut down the entire Quayside deal. MPPs grilled Waterfront Toronto about the controversial process it used to grant the Quayside Project to Sidewalk Labs at the Public Accounts Committee in December, and have asked the agency to produce additional evidence for their review (stay tuned). For their part, Sidewalk Labs/Google have resumed intensive lobbying at City Hall.
THIS WEEK'S ACTIONS
January 23rd: Stop corporate capture at the City's Executive Committee! Make sure Sidewalk Labs' proposal is judged according to new rules! (9:30 AM, 100 Queen St. W.)
The City of Toronto is doing the hard work to develop comprehensive policies around data-gathering tech in our public spaces. This work was prompted, in part, by the fact that Sidewalk Labs was proposing a sensor-laden test bed neighbourhood on our waterfront in a regulatory vacuum. Now politicians are saying that they expect a vote on Sidewalk Labs' proposals to happen before this new policy - designed to protect the public interest - is in place. This is how companies "capture" governments, and we shouldn't let it happen.
Come have your say. You can sign up to depute (make in person comments) or submit a letter by following this link. Then, click "Sign up to speak" or "submit comments" at the top of the page.
January 22nd: Ryerson panel: Is privacy possible in the proposed Sidewalk Toronto or any other smart city? (7 PM, 80 Gould Street)
A great opportunity to learn more about concerns revolving around data collection, sensors and surveillance in smart cities: University of Toronto's Andrew Clement in conversation with York University's Natasha Tusikov, moderated by Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
January 23rd: Waterfront Toronto's Digital Strategy Advisory Panel (DSAP) (1:30 PM-5PM, 20 Bay St., 13th Floor)
Waterfront Toronto's expert panel is expected to discuss its evaluation of Sidewalk Labs' Digital Innovation Appendix, and Waterfront Toronto's Innovation Plan. The Panel's initial responses to the plan were highly critical.
Public consultations postponed: Following a tense public briefing last November, Waterfront Toronto's second (and likely final) public consultation on Sidewalk Labs' proposed test-bed, originally expected in early January, will likely be postponed by at least a month. Community members at the November briefing repeatedly questioned the complete lack of clarity about what is now being proposed for Quayside; and, once again, the fact that Waterfront Toronto appears to have conflicting roles in creating, advocating for and evaluating/approving a proposal.
You can check here for updates regarding a rescheduled meeting.
Human rights impact assessment: Last October, many of you participated in Amnesty International's letter writing campaign, which flagged potential human rights concerns with Sidewalk Labs' proposed test bed district. In November, Waterfront Toronto issued an RFP for a Human Rights Impact Assessment of the Quayside proposal. According to recent press reports, Montreal-based ElementAI will lead an evaluation of potential human rights impacts of the proposal (no, we're not sure exactly what proposal it is they will be evaluating).
Early reports have already raised questions about ElementAI's relative lack of experience in human rights assessments. One critic notes that an industry evaluator may be more likely to ask "'How can we make this system work best?' rather than, 'Should we be doing this at all?'” We await more details about what the assessment will entail.
One important indicator will be whether the assessment looks at the track record of Sidewalk Labs' controlling entity, Alphabet (also the parent of Google)? Luckily, Amnesty International recently published a deep dive into human rights concerns around tech giants like Google and Facebook: Surveillance Giants: How the Business Model of Google and Facebook threatens human rights.
Ontario's Public Accounts committee probes Waterfront Toronto's deal with Sidewalk Labs: In December 2018, a report Ontario's Auditor General raised numerous questions about the process by which Sidewalk Labs was awarded the bid to become Waterfront Toronto's "innovation and funding partner" for Quayside. One year later, MPPs queried Waterfront Toronto staff and board members about the Auditor General's findings. Here is one excerpt from the transcripts, concerning the reason the board was only given a single business day to review and approve the Framework Agreement between Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto:
"Take-it-or-leave-it consent to visit our Waterfront cannot be an option," Canadian Civil Liberties Association Blog, January 17, 2020.
Josh O'Kane, "Waterfront Toronto taps Montreal Element AI for human-rights review of Sidewalk Labs' plan," Globe and Mail, January 16, 2020.
James McLeod, "Element AI tapped to study human rights implications of Sidewalk Labs plan," Financial Post, January 16, 2020.
Amy Fleming, "The case for making low-tech "dumb" cities instead of smart ones," The Guardian, January 15, 2020.
John Lorinc, "The delicate dance of governing Sidewalk Labs' Quayside project," Spacing, January 14, 2020.
Josh O'Kane, "Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto leaders sidestep negotiation tensions as Toronto smart-city deadline looms," Globe and Mail, January 13, 2020.
Mark Bergen, "Alphabet's top lawyer to retire following questions on conduct," Bloomberg, January 10, 2020.
Isabelle Finch, "BT effectively buys InLink out of administration," BusinessLive, January 8, 2020.
Carole Cadwalladr, "Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak shows 'global manipulation is out of control," The Guardian, January 4, 2020.
Jane Wakefield, "Smart Cities: Big data is watching you, from Shenzen to Toronto," BBC Business Daily, December 24, 2020.
Claire Legros, "A Toronto, Bianca Wylie defie Google et sa ville connectee." Le Monde, December 23, 2019.
"Tech giants sued over appalling deaths of children who mine their cobalt," CBC Radio, December 17, 2019.
Daisuke Wakabayashi, "Prime leverage: How Amazon wields power in the technology world." New York Times, December 15, 2019.
Matt Stoller, "Google's dangerous monopoly based foreign policy," BIG, December 17, 2019.
Adrienne Tanner, "Vancouver can't let privacy concerns for Sidewalk Labs projects fall through the cracks." Globe and Mail, December 13, 2019.
Annie Correal, "Just a quarter of New York's WiFi Kiosks are up. Guess where." New York Times, December 6, 2019.
Edward Ongweso, "Silicon Valley owes us $100 billion in taxes (at least)." Vice, December 3, 2019.
Google Walkout for Real Change, "Google fired us for organizing. Now we're fighting back." Medium, December 3, 2019.